March 4, 2022
City cycling is nice, but if we don’t get home in one piece, that’s a problem. Safety rule number one is to wear a helmet!
When I see young urban cyclists in an urban cycling family wearing headgear but their parents do not, it irritates me. What a terrible example this is of our most precious blessings. In California, the underage city bike group is required by law to wear a helmet, and those in power allow the older group to be stupid! Why should we instruct our youth to wear helmets for protection and then set a bad example by not wearing one ourselves? Many adult riders are too confident and feel that helmets are for inexperienced people. Often, however, it is not our actions that lead to injury but the actions of others. So the bottom line is that you should wear a helmet.
That said, don’t buy the cheapest piece of junk you can find if you’re buying the very thing that will get us out of a permanent state of drooling. Ask yourself, “What’s my head worth?” By the time you pay the hospital and all the associated costs of being scraped off the curb, the cost of the helmet is very reasonable. I knew a cyclist who tipped over and hit his head on the corner of the curb during a test ride on a friend’s bike. This happened during a break on a ride, and he wasn’t wearing his helmet even though it was nearby. As a result, he spent the night under observation with a concussion at the local hospital. Always wear your helmet when driving!
The next most important safety item for city bikes is obeying the traffic rules, just like a car. This means that the left-turning lanes are used when necessary. Parents, if you are driving with your family, left turns should be made the old-fashioned way, using the zebra crossings, but remember that zebra crossings are for pedestrians only. Get off your bikes and cross them over the road. Please, we’re driving with the traffic, not against it.
On long rides, it’s nice to have some music with you to keep you company. This is safe, provided it’s only in one ear; keep the other ear open on the traffic side. If you need your phone, don’t put your Bluetooth in the other ear so you’re blocking both ears. Most of us use phones that play music and mute it when a call comes in. You might say, “I’m on a bike path; there are no cars. Why do I have to have my ears open?” A good protocol when cycling is to announce verbally when passing. If both ears are full of music and phone calls, you won’t hear the announcements. When driving in the states, we drive on the right side of the trail that passes on the left. As we pass, we’ll announce “to your left” loud enough for everyone to hear and with enough lead time to process the announcement. Please don’t pass right—it’s the rules
An often overlooked item is stopping when riding in a group of two or more. When you need to stop, announce “stop” and hold your hand to the left, palm open and facing back. I see this all too often, that not announcing your intentions has a negative effect. A sudden stop on
a large ride of several thousand, such as an MS ride, can injure several urban cyclists at once. One of our church town bike clubs has been working all summer to prepare, train, and collect needed sponsorship donations for the fall MS ride. After a very long and steep incline, there was a rest station with a power supply. After a short recuperation, we set off. Our group consisted of about 20 urban cyclists, and the total number of participants for the event ran into the thousands. The event coordinators set up the portable toilets about 200 yards down the hill from the rest station; they realised this was a mistake after it was too late. One of our urban cyclists saw the toilets and her urgent need resulted in the corresponding urgent stop with no verbal announcement or hand signals. This led to a very large build-up of injured riders and damaged equipment. One of our urban cyclists had to be transported to the local emergency room. This also applies to turns. If a rider is behind you and slightly to the left, and you turn left, you cut them off, or worse, clamp their front tyre and cause a fall. As a city cyclist, you are obliged to observe the traffic rules and to indicate your direction indicators just like with a car.
Road waste can also be a problem on group rides. You may see potentially dangerous debris, while those behind you don’t. When you notice dirt, automatically point at it with your arm and index finger extended at a 45-degree angle. The last thing we need is a flat tyre or the danger of stepping into a city cycling member’s bike.
Be courteous while driving, even if you are driving alone. Some trails are very busy, creating group-like situations. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If we practise safe driving techniques all the time, we are much more likely to get home in one piece.